Reflections on a truly volcanic trip

285All day long we have been watching plane after plane take off from Charles de Gaulle Airport. Normally I either wouldn’t notice, or if the sound was too close I’d find it annoying. Not today. Today it’s like the symbols for facebook” title=”music symbols for facebook”>music of the gods because it means we will finally be heading home. One week late and several hundred euros poorer. It could have been a lot worse. We caught a window when we arrived back in Paris last Sunday when there were so many hotel cancellations we were able to find a reasonable room that we could stay in for a week without a problem. A friend in England wasn’t so lucky. She’s hoping to fly home next Monday but is leaving London tomorrow to stay with a kind stranger in Surrey who is willing to put her up until she can fly home which if she’s lucky will be next week because the hotel she’s staying in has new people with reservations coming n so she’s out.

Until yesterday when the planes started flying again, we were starting to seriously look at Plan C or even Plan D. I checked out one-way fares on Air France: economy started at 2,881 dollars per person (I’d type a dollar sign if I could find it on this keyboard – more on that later)! Plan D involved ocean liners. Luckily it didn’t come to that.

We have had time to contemplate, from our point of view as worried travelers, what we think was handled well by the powers that be (airlines, assorted governments, etc) and what wasn’t. It’s almost too easy to say nothing was handled well, but from where we stood, that’s what it felt like. Regular folks -  our friends back home, Meagan and Jock in the UK – were our true angels, offering us advice, support, and a place to stay if we needed it. American Airlines, the airline we flew, was abysmally silent. I would never recommend them to anyone. We had to take charge of our rebooking, and there hasn’t been a single follow-up email, text or phone call to let us know that our new flight is happening. This would have been such a drop-dead easy customer service coup. What they could have said was: we’re here, and we will help you get home as fast as we can – and if that means booking you on another airline, then that’s what we’ll do. How about daily emails or texts to keep us informed on what’s happening – that would have been nice (and incredibly easy)? The federal government, rather than just post a list of phone numbers for different airlines (oh great, I’m overseas, paying 99 cents a minute per call and I’m going to call American or whoever and be on hold for 10 minutes – I’m being conservative, one time it was longer), might have jumped in with useful tips, collected from, say, the Twitterverse, to help stranded travelers access assistance and open up conversations via social media (as an aside, Heathrow Airport is now following Chuck on Twitter which might alarmingly mean that they are getting some of their CDG info from HIM!). What about free cell phones for folks who didn’t bring one with them and are suddenly stuck with no good way to communicate with folks back home? These are just a few of the ideas we came up with brainstorming last night.

From a work standpoint, both Chuck and I are true converts to the cloud. It’s been beyond frustrating having to recreate or dig up files that would normally be at our fingertips and should be in a central, cloud-based location (but thanks, Camille, for going over to the house and rooting around in Charlie’s computer for the files he needed). Oh, and here’s a HUGE lesson we both learned on this (protracted) trip: we will never never never never – let me reiterate that – never travel anywhere without our MacBooks again. It has been torture of the worst kind trying to do real work on a (God and Apple, don’t strike me down for typing these words) Windows netbook. Quite aside from the crappy OS, none of the applications work right, the keyboard is all small and awkward, and in the case of the Sony netbook that we picked up in Paris yesterday, the stupid keys aren’t where they’re supposed to be!!!! It has, of all things, a French keyboard! I have always prided myself on my crappy typing skills. (A typing class? Me? Heck no, self taught two-finger typist, thank you very much!) But as it happens, I type better than I thought I did – on a QWERTY keyboard that is. Now I’m typing on a AZERTY keyboard, and let me tell you, it’s a frigging nightmare. Plus the French clearly use the ! É è ù * $ à and ç WAY more than we do in the States. All of the menus and OS text is in French which I keep telling myself is a learning experience. Chuck, meanwhile, is limping along on a Toshiba netbook. (And I say, why is he whining? He has a QWERTY keyboard. But I don’t like to ask questions, as then I have to find the question mark on this damned keyboard! Meagan, stop laughing!) The moral of the story is that even though we like to be “unplugged” from time to time, we are connected people, and our Macs are like little rectangular family members. And I’m sorry I ever called them fat. They’re not fat, they’re just perfect! And from here on out, they are coming with us wherever we go. Full disclosure: we weren’t going to bring any computers on this trip (iPhones don’t count, they’re like, um, a sixth finger). Almost at the last minute I decided to bring my netbook. It’s light, cheap, and if it were lost or stolen would not make me loseWeight Exercise a minute of sleep and I could blog and upload photos as we traveled. Chuck scoffed at this indication of my addiction to technology, but accepted it. And it was nice: I did indeed blog and upload photos as we traveled, look up the odd piece of info that the iPhones couldn’t handle. Life was good. And then an unpronounceable volcano (okay, it’s actually pronounced AY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul)  in Iceland erupted. My MacBook weighs a shade over 4 pounds; The netbooks, with their batteries attached, clock in at just under 3 pounds. I will take that extra pound any day of the week. Next trip, it doesn’t matter, the Macs are coming with us. We may never use them (hahahahahaha!) but they’ll be there, our faithful reliable friends.

So here we are, stranded in Paris until next Sunday. We’ve worked out a nice flow to our days. We get up, go for a run, shower, breakfast then spend the rest of the morning dealing with work stuff. Around 1pm or 2pm we head out to explore something we haven’t seen (today it was the Pantheon) and have some lunch at a cafe that strikes our fancy. Then we catch the train back to Roissy where we put in  a few more hours of work (by then we’re on California time) and have a dinner of bread, cheese and wine from the local store. Okay, I realize that at this point nobody feels sorry for us anymore. But did I mention that we’re far from home? And we don’t have our Macs? And we’re eating bread and cheese because you could go broke eating in fancy restaurants every night?

Whatever. Okay, I realize this doesn’t sound like such an awful way to spend a week but in our minds, we were all set to come home this past Monday. And everything since has been (it seems to me) to have been an overwhelming cascade of mildly hysterical (mis/dis)information (in some places this is also known as CNN). We miss our dog. We miss fiber optic high speed Internet. We miss clothes dryers. Personally, I really miss a QWERTY keyboard. We’re past ready to come home. Paris is awesome, but it’s most awesome when it’s the place we choose to be, not some place that some obscure Icelandic volcano forces us to be.

Pics of the ongoing adventure are here.


  1. I keep reciting the Yiddish folk tale “It could always be worse” under my breath here in Britain on the 17th day of my 8-day trip. Eileen and Chuck, thank you for dropping in cybernetically from time to time during our volcanic adventure…and now I’m off to Walton-on-Thames, thinking of you in your extended French holiday.

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